Category Archives: holidays

Ending Agony in Fry Town

When Sierra Vista became an incorporated township in 1956, it excluded a half square mile of land that was originally owned by turn-of-the-twentieth-century settler Oliver Fry. Mr. Fry resisted inclusion with the town growing around him, and as a result his land, which came to be known as Fry Town, remains un-annexed and has steadily fallen into disrepair; its residents poor, its crime rates high.

Residents of Sierra Vista proper do not go untouched by this, either. Crime is not conveniently contained within Fry Town’s historic blocks, nor can Sierra Vistans easily ignore such a relatively small section of disrepute. Not when Fry Town and its many bedraggled residents are so prominently on display at Sierra Vista’s main entryway. It’s the first thing newcomers see. It’s not a problem that can be swept under an indifferent rug. It is front and center, and it demands our attention.

Fry Town’s annexation into Sierra Vista’s city limits seems long overdue, but Fry residents have voted against this appropriation in the past. And, while annexation would certainly offer Fry Town residents many city benefits they’re currently bereft of, it is not going to eradicate the problems derived from a socio-economic petri dish of poverty, drug abuse and crime – one that’s been left to fester over the last half century.

Similarly, recent city and county led efforts to give Fry a cosmetic makeover –demolishing abandoned, dilapidated mobile homes and raising new, more aesthetically pleasing, low-income housing – merely whitewashed the neighborhood for appearance sake. It did little toward the long-term health of the community. And, without investing in the future of the residents themselves, it’s only a matter of time before those new developments look like the graffiti-laden relics they replaced. Real change starts with people, not real estate.

To be certain, residents, city leaders and law enforcement have debated the issue for years, and there have been several efforts on all sides to address it. But, ramping up police presence and tearing down structural eyesores amounts to adhering Band-Aids to gushing wounds. And, while not all of its inhabitants live in abject poverty, many do. Many of Fry Town’s inhabitants are trapped in a hellish cycle of poverty. They grew up with crime as not just a fact of life, but a way of it, learning no honor among countless thieves. Their parents were poor, uneducated, abused substances, and abused them. They grew up to do the same, and their children, and their children’s children, in one, long, ghetto nightmare.

Helping these people break the cycle, that is the solution. Granted, there are programs in place designed to address this issue. Unfortunately, Arizona isn’t all that keen on funneling tax dollars toward welfare subsidies; thus, said programs are not adequately funded. Most agree that welfare isn’t intended as a way of life, but rather serves as a helping hand; a hand that pulls one up from the gutter and helps them stand on their own feet.  That is the definition of a working welfare program, and the impoverished population of Fry Town desperately needs it.

Their plight calls for a program that offers drug rehabilitation, where necessary, and intensive therapy. No one abuses drugs because they have a healthy sense of self-worth. You don’t do that to your body, or to your life, if you’re not already in a profound amount of pain. These people, whether they’re abusing drugs/alcohol or not, need to be armed with healthy, psychological tools in order to combat their own mental anguish. Fry Town needs a crackdown on mental health; a SWAT team of counselors at the ready.

If part one of a successful welfare program teaches life skills, then part two offers job skills and employment training. Of course, that would require there being viable jobs for which to train. Sadly, there’s a vast wage gap in Sierra Vista. The local middle class sustains itself with government jobs, government contracting jobs or healthcare work. And, as the government downsizes, it’s a very small employment pool to draw from. Sierra Vista must work on drawing new industry to the area. After all, food service and retail work does not a middle class make.

Yet, the most important, most sure-fire resolution to the woes of Fry Town is this: educate its children. If children are the future, let us plant the seeds that ensure a bright one – and those seeds are called tax dollars; tax dollars that fund their schools and tax dollars that fund the social programs these children require. Some of these kids play in dirt lots and crumbling streets, some with empty bellies and bruised bodies. I know. I have seen them. They exist. They need their community at large to help. They need citizens who are invested enough in their city’s future to pay it forward in taxes, just as they need a city council and a school board that won’t mismanage those taxes.

You can avoid Fry Town all you like, ignore its struggles if you wish, or be satisfied with quick-fixes to its unsightly surface but, eventually, Fry Town will call on you. Whether its presence drives your property values down, its criminals steal your car, or its drug dealers sell their wares to your kids, its suffering spills over those half square mile borders, and its consequences will affect you. It is not their problem, it is our problem – and luckily, it’s one we can fix.

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Easter: Terrifying Children with the Resurrection Story Since Zero A.D.

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Disclaimer: If you’re a devout Christian who takes offense when folks poke a little fun at Jesus (and baby Jesus, and the zombie Jesus), please skip this post. I don’t seek to offend or upset anyone in any way. I do not delight in your discomfort. But I’m possessed (
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My soon-to-be-kindergartner currently attends a Christian preschool. It came highly recommended and more attractive secular options did not present themselves when I went searching. Prior to enrollment, I’d explained that my family was non-religious (not to be confused with anti-religious, just not subscribing to, or practicing, any particular faith) and they assured me that was fine; they welcomed all faiths, beliefs and non-beliefs. And because our daughter was known to have a temper – and had once thrown a tantrum so colossal that, after 20 minutes, my husband wearily addressed her with, “The power of Christ compels you!” – we joked that maybe she could use a little Jesus. Just a little.

Over the course of her school year, however, staff changed, procedure changed, direction changed, and things got progressively more and more churchy. By Halloween we were told the children could dress up for a “fall festival” in the classroom, but only superhero, princess or animal costumes would be allowed. When I asked a staff member if it was okay for a child to dress as a bat, or a spider, so long as they didn’t cry “Hail Satan!” (which they did not think was funny), I was told, “That’s fine. Just as long as it’s not demonic or anything.”

Now, by this time my daughter was firmly engrossed in her pre-K curriculum, enjoying the hell out of her friends and teachers, and absolutely thriving. And considering I’ve been relatively happy with the staff overall, I couldn’t justify pulling her out of school just because, from time to time, a couple people said something that caused my eyes to roll heavenward (with a “Sweet Jesus, are you kidding me?”). We live in Arizona. Someone says something stupid and/or intolerant every 27 seconds. You learn to not sweat the small, silly stuff. And I didn’t. But that was before Dead Bloody Jesus.

Happy Bloody Easter! Where my eggs at?

Happy Bloody Easter! Where my eggs at?

Every day for the last several weeks my sweet five year old daughter has been coming home talking about “dead bloody Jesus.” She’s obsessed. The way all kids are obsessed with things dead and bloody; because it’s scary. “You know how Jesus got the blood on him and died? We watched two movies about it.” And, “Jesus was dead and bloody with a cross. Isn’t that sad? But we’re supposed to be happy.” And, “dead bloody Jesus” this, and “dead bloody Jesus” that. Yay Easter! Terrifying children with the resurrection story since zero A.D.

So, the other night she had a dream about Dead Bloody Jesus (of course she did) but, “It was okay! Me and my friends gave him a shot and he was all better!” And that, good sirs and madams, is indeed great news! Because I have to take this child in for immunization shots next week, and you know the old saying…….if it’s good enough for Dead Bloody Jesus…..

Happy Easter.

Moments and Mementos

Throwing the first of what will likely become an annual holiday party in our home, we invited our guests to bring wrapped, inexpensive mystery presents to be won in a dice game. A “Dirty Dice” holiday game (not that kind of dirty) that my family has played every Christmas for the last twenty years. We just call it “The Dice Game” but when I searched it for its official rules, “Dirty Dice” it was. So named for the last, frantic fifteen minutes of cut-throat present stealing. It really helps draw out the inner greedy, materialistic bastard in us all – otherwise known as “The Christmas Spirit.”

TreeThe game was a smash, hence plans for future events, but a couple of unexpectedly cool things happened besides good times, gift hoarding, and my husband dressing as Santa, passing out presents to the little ones. See, some of our friends identify themselves as introverts. And I can relate to the socially awkward. I grew up in a tree talking to a cat. I believe the movie “Nell” was loosely based on my childhood. But I watched the socially uncozy unite during our gathering. There was a fellow, a new friend’s husband, who was, to the watchful eye, clearly uncomfortable in the crowd of strangers. Another of our self-proclaimed wallflower friends took the goodwill initiative and led the newcomer on a tour of my husband’s action figure packed man cave; more commonly referred to as the “Joe Room”, but also known in some circles as “Geek Mecca.” When the newcomer and his wife bid us goodnight he said, “I just want to tell you, I normally hate parties. My wife had to drag me here. But I had such a good time! You guys are awesome!”

Best compliment of 2013. God it feels good making others feel good.

Highlight dos arrived when a few friends recognized some of my holiday décor for the vintage childhood memorabilia it really is. I had no idea the Christmas Countdown Mouse Calendar had once been so popular. And I don’t know how it went down in other 80s and 90s homes, but in mine, my mother told me the elves came each night to leave candy in the pocket of the newest December day. My most vivid memory of this calendar was the year she underwent back surgery. Being that I was 10 years old, and no longer bought the elf story…but still liked candy very much, my mom pre-packed all days she’d be away in the hospital – a little over a week. I remember looking at that calendar, and the numbered pockets full of chocolates, feeling sad that she would be gone so long, feeling worried and scared for her health, and feeling loved because she’d taken the time to fill my calendar. I felt a mixture of trepidation and reverence. And then I ate ALL the candy at once.

I may have left a few days worth, for sentimentality’s sake. I can’t recall. That was so last century.

IMG_0079But the conversation of youthful yuletide totems led to the pieces of personal history that hung from my tree. Moreover, the ingenious tradition my mother began in 1979, when she bought me my first ornament featuring Pooh Bear and Piglet. Every year afterward she took me to the Hallmark store and had me choose a keepsake. She told me they’d be the ornaments I moved away from home with, someday, and the very first tree of my own would sparkle with the memories my childhood. And that’s exactly what happened.

IMG_0089Every year, when I unbox the squirrels on the telephone, I’m reminded that when I was 13 years old I could not be pried from the phone. And when I hang the Heathcliff ornament on my tree, the one I picked out when I was 7 (my mom labeled all the boxes with the year I chose them, because she’s awesome like that), I wonder if anyone even remembers who Heathcliff was.IMG_0073 There are adorable years, like racoon-riding-a-skateboard year, because I was into raccoons and cute skateboarders. And there are solemn years, like the year my mentor lost her young life in a head-on collision with a semi-trailer, and I chose an angel to represent her.IMG_0075

IMG_0096As I pointed out these artifacts, sharing their stories, a few people said, “Wow. I’m stealing your mom’s idea.” And they should. And you should, too. It’s a beautiful thing to give your children; little memories of long ago Christmases to adorn their someday trees, all their later on lives.

IMG_0109Naturally, I carry on this tradition with my own daughters. Though we’re not bound to the sacredness of the Hallmark Keepsake Ornament. In fact, this year’s additions were hand painted and shipped to us by my talented auntie Holly (I share the link to her Etsy shop and Facebook page every chance I get, she’s amazing). My eldest received a Hunger Games inspired ornament, a Sally one was made for my “Nightmare Before Christmas” obsessed youngest, and a surprise “Breaking Bad” piece came for me. Yay! Because what says “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” better than a little Heisenberg?IMG_0106

Now, I’m not sure my girls appreciate the ornament ritual just yet. I mean, they love choosing their annual baubles, but they’re already critical of choices they made just a year or two previous. My eldest rolls her eyes at her 4 year old “Barbie Princess” pick, while my youngest is so over her 2 year old “Go, Diego, Go!” selection. And that’s fine. It still goes up on our tree, just as I hope they will one day be displayed as lovingly upon the girls “someday” ones.

And we’ll wonder if anyone remembers who the hell Diego was.
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We Love Hard For This

The season is upon us! And whether you agree it’s the most wonderful time of year, or you declare it the most expensive, stressful, pointless, irritating and/or depressing, I have come bearing gifts of holiday cheer!

Well, this isn't the YouTube cheer, just regular old happy everything non-motion cheer.

Age old ‘happy everything’ cheer.

Now, after viewing our upcoming YouTube internet gifts to you (our gifts to the world, really…nay, the universe) you’ll likely ask if we are professional entertainers. Clearly we’ve studied dance and mastered choreography at some point in our collective family career. Surely we’ve performed as a professional troupe; a modern-day “Familie Von Trapp.” But no! Say WHAAAT? I know. It’s hard to believe but, no, we are not trained thespians. We were just bored after Thanksgiving dinner, and it was either bust out the Christmas C.D.s and make with the silly, or watch a movie.

Be glad, and rejoice, that we did not watcheth a movie. But instead…

Viewer Discretion Advised: We are not a perfect family.
Many believe us to be so awesome (and we are), so happy (we mostly are), and the snapshot of an ideal familial unit (which we absolutely are not). This impression is derived from the P.R. face we present to the world. And while the truth of us isn’t some dark, ugly, lie behind closed doors, we have our equitable share of dirty laundry; the sort we choose not to air.

When I hear, “Oh I wish my husband was romantic, like yours,” and, “Oh I wish my family had fun like yours does,” I feel compelled to make others feel better by assuring them that we are real, flawed human persons. That my husband is a thoughtless jerkface, just like theirs, and my children are fiercely engaged in the total annihilation of one another – or me, whichever comes first. And I also assure them how there isn’t enough wine in the breadth of existence to make any of it okay. But, one, no one believes me, and two, it just sells my family short. I shouldn’t have to convince people we’re REAL people.

Especially when I should know, by now, those people will project whatever they want onto the joy we attempt release into the world. They will be uplifted by it or they will be disgusted by it – or some intrinsically complicated lovey-hatey limbo therein.

But I’m not going to feel bad about being happy. Or having a happy family.
We work hard for this.
We LOVE hard for this.

A Timeline of Halloween Coolness

My family has cultivated something of a reputation for manifesting the spirit of Halloween Awesome. Beginning in 2006, when our eldest (back then, our only) child asked us to dress as a family of devils. Since then, each autumn, friends and family eagerly await the unveiling of our family theme; often asking for hints months ahead of time. My favorite years are the ones where our costumes are such an ensemble they function as pieces of a puzzle. Like this year, when we wandered the local mall. We were following each other, single file. First someone would see me, smile, then the little one, and smile, then my mister, and smile, then the eldest….and upon sight of the eldest it clicks. They get it. The big picture. The story we’re trying to tell. And, young or old, they always gasp, their eyes light up and they shout, “OH! THAT’S SO COOL!”

I love that. It makes me happy, my spouse happy, our kids happy and makes others happy: a whole lot of positive juju for a supposedly wicked holiday.
And…so….the story goes…..on a dark and stormy desert night…….

2006: Family From Hell
Our daughter asked if we could be a family of devils. My husband, who stands 6 ft. 5 inches tall, painted his bald head red, super-glued horns to it, attached pointy ears, shaded his eyes and mouth black, inserted fangs, donned a heavy black robe (which has served for many a costume since), added leathery wings, clawed hands and made babies cry. Truly, though, he unwittingly answered the door for a 10 month old trick-or-treater. That poor baby gazed up into the eyes of Satan and started bawling. And my husband, approaching the little guy, with his clawed hands out, saying, “Oh no! Oh I’m so sorry, little guy!” with his razor rows of teeth flashing, somehow managed to make it worse.

Family from Hell

Family from Hell

2007: The Addams Family
The eldest was five years old and had come home from a summer at her Nana’s house announcing she would be Wednesday Addams for Halloween. She pointed at me and said, “You’re Morticia.” Then pointed at my husband and said, “You’re Uncle Fester.” DONE. For a couple of former goth kids, who love horror flicks and have a cabinet in the living room full of (completely tasteful, beautifully ornate) skulls, it was like Christmas! We stole the Halloween show! And Miss Wednesday stayed in character the whole night. Never smiling for a photo. We were so proud.

The Addams Family

The Addams Family

2008: The Wizard of Oz
The eldest, officially in charge of our Halloween theme, had fallen in love with the land of Oz. Again she assigned roles. Mommy: Wicked Witch. Daddy: Flying Monkey. Finding a flying monkey costume to accommodate my husband’s giant (figurative) ass was not exactly easy. We ended up ordering online (for something like $120), some essentially chintzy blue/grey carpet suit with wings. And, October in Arizona isn’t like October in a place that actually has seasons. It’s warm. It’s especially warm dressed head-to-toe in Muppet. I was also 8 hundred years pregnant at the time, dressed head to toe in black Wicked Witch regalia. And Dorothy, six year old Dorothy was an absolute doll and had a marvelous time.

Wizard of Oz

2009: Alice in Wonderland
We’d added a member to our costume crew by 2009. She was 10 months old and had little say in the matter. Big seven year old sister was still commanding the Halloween Family Troops, and was enamored of Alice in Wonderland. By now, she wasn’t dictating costumes to her parents; it was more of a collaborative effort. Of course she would be Alice, but we were free to choose the funnest, most feasible characters we could be. It was the first year I attempted to make costumes. My Queen of Hearts gown was (a lukewarm mess) not what I’d envisioned, and my baby’s Cheshire Cat was just okay (though I was proud of the fluffy tail). My husband had an old-timey suit and pocket watch on hand, just adding whiskers and rabbit ears. And little Alice was the star of our show.

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

2010: Universal Studios Monsters
It was purely collaborative that year. The baby, fast approaching age two, was obsessed with dogs and had been randomly howling for several months, “Ahhhhhh-wooooooooh!” Cutest thing EVER. Meanwhile, big sister wanted to be a vampire. My husband was the genius who suggested the Universal Studios Monsters theme. He was Frankenstein, I, his electroshocked bride, and the girls were Dracula (in drag) and baby Wolfman. We didn’t get a family photo until the very end of the night. My makeup had run off, my mega-wig was limp, the eldest had discarded her own wig hours before, the baby’s wolfman’s cowl never fit properly, but Franky rocked the party all night long.

Universal Studio Monsters

Universal Studio Monsters

2011: The Year Off
The mister was stationed in South Korea, decidedly placing a damper on (everything!) our usual festivities. It was the first year the baby, at that point almost 3, but still “the baby”, requested a costume. Having forsaken dogs after a friend’s ill-tempered one had bitten her, she said, “I wanna be a kitty!” Big sister was big into Monster High Dolls and wanted to be Abbey Bominable (the Abominable Snowman’s daughter). I decided last minute to throw on some ears and be a kitty mama. And that was that.

And it was kind of nice to have the pressure off (…our wallet).

The Year Off

The Year Off

2012: Horror Movies
Back in black, yo! A long black wig for big sister who played the scary Asian ghost girl from “The Grudge”, that same old handy black robe for the mister who underwent five hours of latex makeup to transform into Pinhead from “Hellraiser”, and a black cloud above me as I showered myself in fake blood and mimicked 1970s “Carrie.” Oh, and a black spider costume for the little one, who said, “I wanna be a spider! A black widow!” And we all wondered how we’d fit that into the family theme. My husband replied, “Okay…..uh…you’re from ‘Arachnophobia!’” And it worked out all right.

Incidentally, on a grown-up costume party night out, walking around with Pinhead, I found out what it would be like to be the non-famous person married to someone famous. Five minutes after entering a Halloween block party in Bisbee, Arizona the crowds started forming around my husband, requesting pictures. And slowly, I was pushed back and back until I was outside the circle of his adoring fans. It took fifteen minutes to reclaim my date – and that was just the first adoring, cellphone pic-ing throng.
NTS: Never marry anyone famous.

Horror Movies

Horror Movies

2013: Cinderella

“Cinderella???? After all that? You’re going DISNEY PRINCESS? Nooooooo!” – general consensus when we leaked the news.

We’d decided to let the baby (who is almost five now, but will forever be “the baby”) assign costumes the way her sister had done at her age. We couldn’t very well tell her, “No. Sorry, sweetie. You can’t be what you want to be for Halloween, because the family is doing Star Wars this year and you’re going to be R2-D2. Now, practice beeping and blooping.” Though we really get into the spirit of the season, we’re not assholes.

We also knew, with her, we’d likely be heading down a magical Disney princess alley – she’s obsessed with Cinderella – and no one was thrilled about that. We realized we’d lucked out with the older one, and all her creepy/cool picks. Big sister was never a tomboy, but she wasn’t a girly-girl either; she was just wonderful. Little sister is equally wonderful. And, believe me, she may like pastels, tiaras, frilly dresses, and fairytales full of love everlasting, but she will also CUT YOU. I don’t worry about empowering her as a female. Future her will stab you with her Prada heel. Repeatedly. I advise you to let the girl be girly.

Cinderella

Cinderella

And as it turned out, with the baby as Cinderella, big sister as the Fairy Godmother, Daddy as Prince Charming and myself as the Wicked Stepmother, we had a lot of fun! I took another go at creating costumes from near scratch, and won. The mister built his (spray-painting canning jar lids gold and adhering braided tassels to create epaulettes on the shoulders) from the bare bones of an old air force jacket. Big sister and I lucked out at the diviest thrift store in town. I’d had a hell of a time finding a Victorian dress, anywhere, for under a hundred dollars, yet found my gown at St. Vincent de Paul for 3 bucks. Sewed on a brooch. Wicked Stepmother. Done. Sewed pink satin ribbon into a baby blue hooded bath robe, shaped and attached a pink satin bow via clasps. Fairy Godmother. Done. Big sister made the baby’s choker, I painted her blue headband, daddy worked diligently on his sashes, awards and braiding. And unlike the Alice in Wonderland year, our crafty efforts paid off. Or at least, they seemed to. We made people smile.

Cindarella Halloween

Cindarella Halloween

I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be able to float this family-themed boat. We have a preteen who willingly, happily dressed up with us this year, but only half-heartedly trick-or-treated. How long before her attitude changes: “Um, you guys are, like, hella dumb and stuff. Oh. Em. Gee. I, like, totally hate my life. And you. But mostly just you.” And what about the little one? What if next year her pick is My Little Pony? And the year after, Lalaloopsy? What if our once spooky family Halloween gets hijacked by pink unicorns sparkles of glittery princess cheer?

*Shudder*

There’s an end somewhere. There always is. Family traditions aside, these girls will grow up and move away. At which point I imagine sitting home on Halloween nights, having set up spooky lights and strobes, fog machines, with many a robotic monster in the yard, costumed-up and ready for trick-or-treaters – with a bowl of the GOOD candy! I want all the kids in my neighborhood to be excited and enchanted by my house, year after year. I want to create that one super cool place you remember from your childhood. And, with any luck, my grandchildren will stop by.